Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Friday in Lucban, Quezon

One of the most unique Good Friday rituals in the Philippines that I've yet come across is the procession of the Santo Entierro of Lucban, Quezon. Since part of my family hails from Lucban, I thought it would be a great opportunity to further research some of the traditions still prevalent there. Like the Quiapo Nazarene of Manila, Lucbanins believe that the image of the Dead Christ holds miraculous powers; it is processed around the streets of Lucban and accompanied mostly by men, who vie against one another to be able to touch its bier. The procession usually begins after the Adoration of the Cross has concluded, and almost always finishes just before midnight. The video above is one of the best, if not the best, documentations of this ritual yet. It starts in the morning, when the priest gives his blessing to the maroon-clad escorts of the Dead Christ. On their shoulders they carry the ropes with which they will pull the bier around the city. Then follows a procession of men in white, a carryover from the folkloric past of Lucban. There is a term for them that I cannot recall at the moment; it is their task to remove the Crucified from His Cross and lay Him in state. The ritual of the pagtanggal sa Krus was just one of the many elaborate and often dizzying Holy Week practices of the Philippines that were either willfully forgotten or suppressed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, casualties of "relevant" and "participatory" liturgy. While it has not disappeared completely, the number of parishes in which this ritual takes place has been vastly attenuated. Notable examples, aside from Lucban, are Pakil in Laguna, Baliuag in Bulacan, San Jose (home of the famous "bamboo organ") in Las Pinas, and some others which escape my memory. The procession of the bier is accompanied by the haunting sound of bamboo clappers, usually three feet long, and numbering in the dozens.

The devotion to the Senor del Santo Entierro is vastly more popular with men than it is with women; since women practically have the rest of the year to be pious and devoted, the men seize the disturbance of Good Friday as a sort of heightened opportunity to display their fortitude, strength, and determination. Men who rarely, if ever, go to church are most active on this day: whether they be out in the fields scarring and whipping their backs, or else risking the crush of tens of thousands of people in an effort to kiss or touch the image of dead God on His way to the grave.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Some Photos from Holy Week

I thought I would share some photos from Holy Week here. Mostly since I am really quite bored at the moment, and because I think it would be nice to show a little glimpse of how Holy Week is done here-- aside from the usual fare of flagellants and people who want to be crucified.


This is a picture of the altar in my dad's cousin's house for the pabasa. By most standards, this is actually quite plain; but then again, this was taken a good ten minutes after it had ended, and most of the ornaments had already been removed.  There was actually a pretty big image of the Santo Nino behind the crucifix, but it was needed elsewhere and had to be removed.

The high altar of the parish in Taysan, Batangas, where our pabasa was held. This was still very early in the day (around 10am) and when we got there the priest and his altar boys were still practicing for the Mass of the Last Supper. I was quite delighted when he suddenly launched into a 15 minute discourse on liturgical orthopraxy (!!!). It was also my first time to see a crotalus (wooden clapper) in any church in the Philippines. Here, the children are cleaning the sanctuary after the priest dismissed them.

Despite what you think, this station was actually playing a dramatized version of the Passion of Christ. It lasted almost three hours.

 This lovely altar of repose is from the Shrine of Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life, which is a walking distance from the rather aptly named Mall of Asia. It was only my second time to visit this church on Maundy Thursday; my youngest cousin was baptized here in 2003, and ever since then I've always wanted to visit it (I was sick that day and wasn't able to attend).

Photos from Baclaran church. There was an area outside the church where petitioners can burn candles in the hopes of having their prayers answered. It was already 11.30 in the evening when we finished our vigil there, so we had to call it quits; the next church in our itinerary was simply too far away.

Notes on Holy Week

In a traditionally Catholic country like the Philippines, one simply can't help but be absorbed in the rhythms of the life of the Church. Every Holy Week, the normally ear-splitting boroughs and streets of Manila grind to an astonishing silence: the streets become empty, neighborhoods are deserted, and a noonday silence hangs like a pall over all life. Come Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, all shops are closed: no malls, no supermarkets, no trains, no cinemas, and no rowdy nightlife. The old ways reassert themselves once more, and everyone takes on a somber demeanor: laughing, shouting, smiling, and even bathing is discouraged. The Lord has entered into His Passion; the mysteries of our faith are being established.

To many, such actions seem perhaps a little overdone. Many Filipinos, especially in the rural areas, seem to think of Lent as a time for spectacle: and thus, in a number of provinces, penitents line the streets, faces covered, whipping their backs in atonement for their sins. The flagellation reaches a fever pitch on Good Friday, where it is believed that blood must be shed; many of these men cut their backs with pieces of cut glass, which they then whip with bamboo flails, walking on their knees in the dust and falling flat upon their faces at the appointed times. As someone who went to Catholic school all my life, I was always taught that such actions were to be frowned upon rather than encouraged; Lent, after all, was an occasion for spiritual perfection moreso than such horrendous displays of piety-- if piety it can even be called. To be transformed into the very image of Christ, then, was essentially a spiritual process, born about by the mortification of the will, the mind, and the heart-- and not by making oneself resemble the gruesome, bloodied corpus affixed to the crucifix. In this light, I often had to ask myself if the various Lenten observances we have always observed as a family, then, were merely elaborately designed theater productions, all "sound and fury, signifying nothing"?

For me, the high point of Holy Week was always Maundy Thursday. In the mornings we would usually drive to Batangas, where my dad grew up, in order to attend the pabasa ng pasyon. The pasyon, basically, is the narrative of the Passion of Our Lord as told in verse; it is chanted, usually by a group who have undertaken a vow (panata) to do so, and usually lasts ten to twelve hours; my father tells me, though, that the pabasa lasted a lot longer in his youth, since the tones used were more elaborate. This year we left home at 4.30 in the morning, and after a two hour drive, we were surprised to learn that the passion was already more than halfway through.I met some cousins from Toronto I never knew I had, who were visiting for the summer; then, after the obligatory prayers had been said, it was time for lunch. My aunt, however, had taken a vow which she had made and kept since her teenage years, not to eat anything but bread and water for the entire duration of Holy Week; and while the oppressive heat and humidity were taking their toll on her, no one rebuked her for it.

In the afternoon, we drove back to Manila to fetch the rest of the family for the customary visita iglesia. This tradition involved visiting seven churches to keep vigil with the Lord in repose, a response to the challenge He poses in the Gospel: Non potuistis vigilare una hora Mecum? We were only able to visit six churches, but I would like to focus on just two: the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene (Quiapo church), and the National Shrine of Our Mother of Perpetual Help (Baclaran church). There is hardly any Filipino who hasn't heard of either church: both have seemingly taken on mythic proportions, and have woven themselves firmly into the folklore of the people. Quiapo is the seat of the Black Nazarene, a miraculous, charred statue of Christ sent to the Philippines from Mexico in the 1600s, and is widely considered the premiere church in Asia. It is a mecca for mystics and sinners alike, orthodox and heretic, pagan and zealot. Baclaran, meanwhile, is home to the much revered icon of the Mother of Perpetual Help; it is likewise a refuge for the weak and the downtrodden, those people whom many would consider the dregs of society. A joke even goes that Baclaran is a haunt for prostitutes, who walk on bended knee to the icon of Our Lady in the hopes of snagging a good catch for the night.

I have already written about both churches in the past, but entering them for the first time that Maundy Thursday night was nothing short of a revelation for me. Quiapo and Baclaran, I think, are the only churches in the entire Philippines where a veiled hermana with arms spread crosswise can walk on her knees next to a transvestite in a little black dress, and not tear each other's hair apart.I say this not so much as to jest, but to state an honest observation. Entering the home of the Black Nazarene for the first time was an experience that I could honestly describe as nothing short of numinous, perhaps even cosmic. Seeing the much revered statue shrouded in violet cloth, while all around worshippers milled and thronged in devoutly cacophonous adoration, while in the background the melismatic tones of the pasyon were resounding, was like seeing the entirety of the Christ-event unfold before my very eyes. Here are the people of God, in all the searing nakedness of their sin, whom He has won with His blood. And in that moment, one understands, albeit as if in a flash of intuition, why He died, and why He had to die so horribly-- so as to blot out the equally horrendous accumulation of filth that we acquire through our sin. To be a priest in Quiapo is serious business: it is said that a bucket is a necessity in all of the confessionals, because the sins being confessed there have a very real, very nauseating effect. Likewise, Baclaran simply assaulted the senses with a barrage of sights and sensations seemingly so diametrically opposed, but which strangely complement each other so well. The sidewalks that led to the church were lined with dozens of homeless men-- even an entire family-- sleeping on the cold asphalt.  Behind us was a group of kids, who were probably not yet out of high school, cursing loudly as they made their way to the church. "Let's find a whore after we visit the church", said one, much to the consternation of the more devout pilgrims.

I suppose this is what most people who do Lent "right" point to when they say that our Lenten observances are more concerned with the externalization of what is  rightfully an internal process, or the erection of a stage or facade of piety. Then again, I am always suspicious of people who think of religion as a mere, albeit "magical" means to attaining respectability. In another post, I mentioned that a fundamental ingredient to conversion is the acceptance-- however unwillingly or painfully-- of the cosmos of religion. But this is not a cosmos devoid of creation, but one suffused with life, even a deafening and crushing surplus of it. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the universe of the religious man is one in which there is no differentiation of the spiritual and the material; hence, religion is a matter of "finding one's place" in the grand scheme of things. In Catholicism, awareness of one's sinfulness is the first step to redemption. There is something about the explicitly visceral nature of the flagellants' vow that conveys that awareness so much more effectively than any re-reading of the Catechism ever can, regardless of the motivations of the penitents. One can gripe about the seasonal or "put-on" nature of these people all he can, and point to the fact that there has been no fundamental change in the way one lives his life; but inconsistencies such as these have always been the norm for humanity, ever since Adam and Eve ate from the tree. It would be nothing short of delusional to think that the process of self-perfection can be reduced into a simple project, more akin to self-help than any metaphysical transformation in Christ.

Sometimes, it is necessary to be sinful in order to know just exactly what we are being saved from. I suppose this is a realization that has come too late, or one which I often conveniently forget in the place of a self-imposed, militantly rigoristic insistence on angelic perfection. Were all the history of the world an elaborately and meticulously designed stage by God, then perhaps we would be permitted to think that it is our place to "act" in such a way that would make the supreme and the only worthwhile Deus ex machina of Christ's Paschal Mystery shine out in all its dread majesty and splendor. The world is a stage; those who would seek to dismantle its artifices unwittingly also work to reduce the poetry and romance of His Passion into a simple matter of ethics and precepts. I can think of no sadder future for Christianity than one that delights in the cold, sterile light of merely respectable living.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Rain in Spain...

(I am out of town at the moment, but I thought I would share this news here on this blog, since I found it quite sad. My own Holy Week activities were also curtailed, though certainly not willfully. Ah well. Here's to  next year's processions. I guess my suspicions were warranted when I couldn't find new videos of the Esperanza de Macarena the whole day on YouTube. From The Telegraph.)

Rain in Spain puts dampener on Easter parades

Seville's famous Good Friday processions were cancelled for the first time since the Spanish Civil War, bringing bitter disappointment to women allowed to participate in the religious event for the first time ever.

Torrential rain meant it was the first time in almost 80 years that all of the six night-time processions – the highlight of Easter Week – were cancelled. The last time was due to political unrest in the lead up to the 1936-39 Spanish Civil War.
Known as "La Madruga", the processions running from midnight until dawn on Good Friday are organised by religious brotherhoods within the southwestern city and attract tens of thousands of onlookers who line the streets to watch the solemn parades.
Spanish state television showed scenes of people crying after the processions were cancelled at the very last minute. The heavy downpours had made the streets too treacherous, organisers said.
"The weather is getting worse. The weather front has hit us directly. There is more water on the way," said Adolfo Vela, the head of one of the brotherhoods.
The processions, which date back to medieval times, feature hooded penitents marching through the cobbled streets of the Andalusian capital bearing huge candles.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

What's wrong with this?


(In which I rant uncharacteristically about the Church)

Like anywhere else in the world, McDonald's in the Philippines serves really bad food-- their burgers are dry and usually bland, and the only thing I order from them is their fries. They usually come up with good commercials, though. The video I posted above is their latest TV commercial-- actually, the premise is not really exclusive to the Philippines, as I also found this Indian version on YouTube.  At the start of the commercial, the girl asks the boy "Am I your girlfriend already?" To which he replies, more or less "No way! I'm not yet ready for that. And girlfriends are quite demanding; they like this, they like that, I don't know what they like." The girl answers "But all I want are McDonald's fries..." After which they head to the fast food to buy it. Anyway, the commercial was removed by McDonald's a few days ago because the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines somehow deemed it an attack on the traditional values of the country.

People say all the time that the institutional power of the Church in the Philippines is waning, and I didn't really believe that until now. To focus so much attention on this commercial, I think, was just abso-f-----g-lutely ridiculous and inane on the CBCP's part.  There is nothing malicious at all about that commercial! It's two kids buying cheap french fries for crying out loud. Heck, if the CBCP intends to go on a commercial purge, they should also have McDonald's destroy every last trace of this commercial, which, if you ask me (though I won't really answer that), equates fast food with the age-old practice of Simbang Gabi. Instead of worrying about pop culture-- it has always been perverted in some sense, and will always be-- how about fussing over the Liturgy for once? Too many parishes in Metro Manila have priests who still have no idea it's Lent and still keep giving the cheesiest, most barf-inducing homilies day in and day out. Liturgical music is almost universally horrid, attendance at Sunday Masses are dwindling, children are being taught idiocy in Catholic schools, and to top it all off, the Church is losing members to the many sects that now crowd our religious landscape. Wake up, Excellencies; to say that, because the Church in this country has always been respected in the past, does NOT mean it will continue to be deferred to in the future. The youth of today are beyond your control and are not so obliged anymore to keep the Faith out of a sense of tradition. Secularism IS creeping in but to continue using old tactics against a demographic that have taken the postmodern to heart is, I think, a losing battle.

Whether the CBCP likes it or not, cafeteria Catholics will end up ruling the country one day. I am not really so surprised anymore though, since I believe that has always been the case. Heck, even in the 1700s Church and State in the Philippines always clashed, and more violently at that: a governor general once had the Archbishop of Manila imprisoned after an incredible stand off in his private chapel (where he held the Blessed Sacrament close to his heart, but, when fatigue had finally taken its course, dropped it on the ground), and on the flip side, a friar-instigated mob even assassinated the governor general Fernando Bustamante y Bustillo and his son. Nowadays though the primary weapon of the secularists is discourse; and if the leaders of the Church don't realize that soon enough, it will lose a lot more of the respect and the prestige it holds to.

Friday, April 08, 2011

John Paul II in Manila, 1981

My dad was telling me about his experience of attending the Mass for the Beatification of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint, in Manila last night. It was 1981 and Pope John Paul II was in Manila to meet with the youth of the country. On paper, Martial Law had already ended, but in practice, the Marcoses still lorded it over the country, their generals and cronies getting fat on their abuses of the people. It was the first beatification ceremony outside the Vatican; hence, the Mass was naturally packed with people.

"I was a senior at UST (University of Santo Tomas) then, which hosted the Pope during his visit. Since I knew some people who were part of the committee that dealt with the Pope's visit, I was able to get tickets for his final Mass quite early. I went with my four sisters who were all in Manila at the time.

There must have been a mix-up with the tickets, since when we came to our designated seats, we found that we were seated together with the religious! Directly in front of us were so many nuns and priests, and when we took our seats, we could hear some of them groaning. We were the only laypersons seated there, and one of my sisters even forget her veil. So there we were, being eyed by some grumpy nuns and all we could do was look down. I heard one of them say that "These must be one of those new groups who've taken up the Jesuit spirituality", etc. One of the nuns in front turned to face us. I think she was curious why we were seated there, so she asked, "What congregation do you belong to?" "Oh, Sister, we belong to the Congregacion del Hermanas de San Antonio (Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Anthony-- His name was Antonio); I am the priest assigned to them. I was wearing a barong, so they thought that I had chosen to wear plainclothes instead of clericals. Later, another nun, this time from behind us, asked what congregation my sisters were from. I answered that they belonged to the Hijas del Salvador (Daughters of the Savior; Salvador is my grandfather's name). Thankfully, after that, the questions stopped.

We also saw Imelda Marcos make her way near the altar, where she had requested a specially commissioned prie-dieu for her use. In true Imelda fashion, she had come attired all in black; she had a gigantic, diamond-studded peineta clipped to her head (a sort of comb that held the mantilla, popular in Spain), but which looked more like a tiara, covered with a gigantic black veil. I think the rumor went around that she asked her hairdresser to make her hair resemble more closely the hair of the Blessed Virgin. Anyway, she arrived escorted by a bemedalled general holding a golden umbrella to shield her from the sun; it was rumored she wanted to receive communion from the Pope, and was even practicing her kneeling and sobbing. But I think the Pope was too exhausted, so he just gave communion to the altar party."

It is interesting to note that His Holiness came to the Philippines, not at the invitation of the Government (and in fact, the Papal Nuncio at the time was said to have canceled a lot of planned activities with the Marcoses), but of the youth of the nation. I must say, Mrs. Marcos is one ostentatious hag, too.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Some Notes on Falling in Love

While cleaning my room earlier, I found an old diary I kept in my freshman year at the university. It was an old moleskine, my first one, but only the first fourteen or so pages have any writing in them. Be kind; I was seventeen when I wrote this, so do expect it to sound a little emo-ey, as odious as it is.


I am keeping a diary for the first time in what seems like many years. Why? Well, since I am in college already I thought it would be nice to record my thoughts for once. Would be nice to reminisce on these first few days of independence after my graduation. I sat through my first classes yesterday-- two straight sessions of English. Well, I am quite excited about it: I've never seen so many people enthusiastic for class! Unlike High School, where everyone just slept. For literature yesterday, our homework was to write an essay about love--I know, right? So soon?-- to be submitted next Monday.

I keep thinking about the subject in my head, and as a result, I lost a bit of sleep over it: not good, since my first class starts at 7:30 a.m. The first time I really fell in love with someone was just a little over one year ago. It didn't end well. Not at all. I expected myself to cry, but didn't. Maybe because it was just an emotion? Then again, emotions... just play on our other emotions. Maybe I wasn't really in love? Maybe I just knew from the start that it was not meant to be? But what does it mean to fall in love, in the first place? One of the girls in my class who sits next to me told me that it was impossible to go through life without falling in love even once. I told her that I did, but also that I accepted it so quickly. She told me that I was still immature [but in a kind manner of course]. That I haven't felt how beautifully sad it was to have had and lost, and haven't had the courage yet to escape from myself. Or something like that.

I think I will attack my essay from that angle. I think, to have fallen in love, is in the end to be thankful to that someone-- for completing me, for giving me hope, and also, and most importantly I think, for destroying me. Thank you for building me up, and for tearing me down; I am now whole. I now know what it means to have everything, and lose it all in a blinding flash. I know, it doesn't really make sense. But who says falling in love even made sense in the first place? Someday, I hope I will be given by God the grace to understand all of these terribly confusing things.

* * *

Five years later, I think the line that resonates most with my present self is: "Thank you for destroying me", which I underlined above.  Not the kind of brutal, industrial, even clinical destruction so prevalent in society today; but rather, more like the destruction of a beautiful glass sculpture, which cannot help but radiate, refract, and reflect the light which hits it.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

First Mass in the Philippines

On 31 March 1521, the very first Mass was celebrated in the Philippines. By a remarkable coincidence, I spent much of that day in Manila's old district, Intramuros, where the four hundred year old church of San Agustin, the sole survivor of four centuries of earthquakes, other natural disasters, and a most lamentable war (the Second World War reduced Manila to a pitiable cinder, the second most devastated city in all the theaters of that War). Although the exact place of the Mass is still hotly debated today, what is true, even after the gulf of four hundred and ninety years, is that it set the course for the almost ineluctable Christianization of these islands. The photo above is a detail of the main portal of the Manila Cathedral, rebuilt in 1958 after being destroyed in the war, along with many other great churches. I'll try to share some of the other photos I shot, soon.